Rainbow Lakes Basin
near Trinity Mountain above Anderson Ranch Reservoir

First a few good links

rainbowlakes placemarker (requires Google Earth, very cool). If you don't have Google Earth, use the image below.
static image of rainbow lakes from google earth with trail shown as white line.

Here are two topozone views of the area:
closeup of rainbow lakes
wider view

All pictures from the trip

Trip report

We left about 6am Wed, Sep 7, 2005. We took the recommended route from the book by going over the Anderson Ranch Reservoir dam and following the (sometimes rough and treacherous) dirt road north to Big Trinity Lake. We discovered on our way home that going through Pine is much better. The dam route seemed to be more than 30 miles of rough dirt road, whereas the Pine route had only about 12 miles of much smoother dirt and gravel road. Take the turnoff to the west that is past Pine and about one mile before Featherville.

There is a nice parking lot at the trail head next to several pay camp sites at Big Trinity Lake. The trail heads south steeply for less than one mile to a saddle that overlooks the Rainbow Lakes basin with Trinity mountain lookout on the west. Here is a view from the saddle. You are looking south and can see some of Green Island Lake in the lower left and Trinity mountain lookout in the upper right. The hike to the rest of the lakes from the saddle is easy downhill and no more than 3 miles.

Big Rainbow Lake

We camped at Big Rainbow lake on the far west end from the trail. It is a big, well used camp site, tucked nicely in the trees near the lake. There was no stream running into the lake, only a spring, that is not big enough to filter water from, but that might be different earlier in the summer. The fishing was ok. I think I caught 3 or 4 rainbow trout, all less than 12 inches. Some pictures of
our campsite
kitchen rock
west end of lake
swim beach at camp site
bath time
While we were swimming, Mark caught two tiny leeches on his feet. I didn't get any on me, because I think he got out of the water a bit further to the north of the sandy beach where there were some reeds or plants growing in the water and the water is shallow and warmer.
We discovered a nice camp site on the far south east side of the lake that is well hidden from the normal trails around the lake. Water would be a bit of a walk, but the seclusion would be worth it.

Middle Rainbow Lake

Middle Rainbow lake is a nice, deep lake with ok fishing. The biggest fish I caught on the trip were on the south west end where the rock slide comes into the lake. There is also a very nice camp site on the south east end with a nice stream flowing nearby for water.
It may seem like getting from Big to Middle off trail is the quickest way, but it is very steep with a difficult navigation around some dense bushes on the west end of Middle. Take the trail. Some pictures
lake from east end
nice rainbow trout
same trout

Little Rainbow Lake

Little Rainbow lake is a shallow lake filled with brook trout that bite about any fly, but not lures. Using dry flies I think I caught a fish or got a strike with every cast and I'm not kidding. The fish were mostly 6 to 9 inches. There is a lot of swampy area around the lake. The off-trail route between Middle and Little Rainbow is also easy. I saw no camp sites that I would like to use. Some pictures
lake from north end
me fishing

Trinity Mountain lookout tower

Trinity mountain, at about 9500 ft, dominates the surrounding area and is a natural place for a forest service lookout. When traveling on highway 20 after Mountain Home and before turning off to Pine, Trinity mountain is easily visible from the road as the nearly perfectly cone shaped mountain to the north. We basically made our way through the trees, open meadows, gully washes and then straight up the south ridge to the top. The views from the tower are great. Here are a few
me below tower
Mark below tower
view to the west
view to the east, rainbow basin
another view to the east
In the views down into Rainbow basin you can see, from left to right, Big Lookout Lake, Heart Lake, and the three Rainbow lakes. I did not have good fishing in Lookout, or Heart lakes.


The hike in to the Rainbow lakes is easy and not too long. We made it in under 2 hours. There were few running streams near camp sites, but there might be more earlier in the year. Flies were the only bug problem and then only near the spring by our camp. It was late in the summer, so earlier there might be more mosquitos. The fishing overall was good and there are a lot of lakes to choose from. I think it is a great spot for day hikes or extended camping. The scenery is beautiful.

Useful links

Leave No Trace.